Joao Vilhena talks about Egg Trilogy: Still Life
Until 16th of August Joao Vilhena, one of the founders of the project matetip.com has a show going called Egg Trilogy in the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon, Portugal. After closing a previous show in National Palace of Mafra also in Portugal, we decided it was time to sit with this author and talk about success. tourism, art and patrimony. We met at Hotel Vila Galé, Ericeira in a summer mediterranean day for this interview.
Josh Lime_ Thank you for finally allow this interview to take place. What took you so long to accept being featured in matetip.com ? Was it because you’re one of the founders of the magazine ?
Joao Vilhena_ Thank you for the persistence. Yes, lol. It was a deontological position regarding the editorial aspects of the magazine. But because the subject is my second show this year in an huge National touristic space in Portugal, it make sense to talk to you now. Plus it’s summer and spending the day in the swimming pool of the Vila Galé hotel here in Ericeira with this sun having a bloody Mary is very nice.
JL_ So we either find you in Palaces, National History Museums or by the pool ? Is the nature of your work summed by the places you are ?
JV_ Certainly. Every place has its own specificities. I studied fine arts and Sculpture. The space is an issue for me. Beside as a fitness activist I try to promote every time I can a more healthy view of the art world and artists different from the french last century baffon stereotype. Artists can be healthy and highly functional as content providers to the society. It’s no longer that idea that one is an artist because it can’t be nothing else.
JL_You certainly sell, or encourage in a very active way an even younger generation to feel empowered. In the show currently at the National Museum of Natural History and Science you disclosed to the public that it was the first time that the Museum was going to show the egg of a Vilhenossauros. Did you engage more visitants and worked around expectations as a marketing tool or it was a response to the nature of the project in the space ?
JV_ Both. I’m really not a conceptual artist by any means. But the coherence of an art project is important. When focused on a show I have my team and producer making the vision possible. Less is for me always more, and the input and liberty of the museologist Sofia Marçal in the project was quite exemplary. We wanted to cross the boundaries of science and art. All that in a space where this 7 meters egg was going to show a video piece of the egg as a landscape. The uniqueness of it all was scrambled (lol) with the natural history. Having this same space being booked for a dinosaur/mammal show I felt myself as natural history. Vilhenossauros became the centrepiece (if you consider a 20cm egg can out view a 7 meter one). There is irony in the contempt of any object. It’s nature joke on us. The marketing stunt was courtesy of my PR. It’s up to them to conceptualise. LOL
JL_The show Egg Trilogy led me to being upon a condition of elements displaced around the construction of the egg and your view on ways to present it. As a visitant the narrative became clear when I found at the end of the room, on the left side of the gigantic egg while listening to the tune “St. James Infirmary” (from the video), a round table with a spotlight over the modern remains of the opening. It came to me that still life was an issue of placement. Was it intentional to calibrate the weight of a museum show and the contents of what you elect as art ?
JV_Yes. I’m glad you reach that point as a visitant. It was important to me to cover the timeline of the show. Because the egg series actually began in the end of 2013-14, the continuous linearity of the production for the present show asked me to place the present in the considerations done. For me the projection in a the gigantic egg of an egg shaped video animation of macro photography done in 2013 married with the final editing we did for the show when adding the tune telling the story of a man recalling his life events, as told in the song St. James Infirmary. The cadency of the music was perfect for the cadence of the visual imagery showed in this time-lapse structure while listening to Louis Armstrong rendition. For the opening we decided with the curator (Sofia Marçal) to place the table of beverages and food right next to the egg. It was Sofia’s sensibility that added the spotlight. When cleaning at the end of the opening we left behind a bit of our own history in that present moment. Because the place becomes the narrative if we let it, it ended as an after party “Dead Nature”. As ironic as it is it happened. And in this specific museum because dealing with natural history the participants left behind their presence as a still life.
JL_Your recent production asserts around time and stillness. You regularly do in your instagram and Facebook daily work photographing dead natures (or still life’s) as you put it. Before in the show for National Palace of Mafra you designed for the course of the visitant the twelve sculptures that made your individual show “Timeline”. Again the time presented in the course of the modern art starting in 1910 to the present. The modernity. Why does time matter so much in your work ?
JV_The nature of life as the idea of condensing a moment always mattered in my work. How everything is eternally changing and what can I do to crystallise a point of the real. To make this view, my view, others view it’s the dream in itself to present the real. The real is what matters to me the most. Our perception of it, how we present it. How we can remember it. Time in itself is an abstraction . There is a cycle in everything. To be able to make the cycle and linearity of life and death, and make something in between I suppose its the utmost ambition for me as an artist.
JL_So immortality is important for you as an artist or for your work as one ?
JV_Other than being able to go to a recycle bin after prescribe of the illness of death, my work is part of my view of the world. Yes, it’s my world. Nothing more or nothing less. I like to believe that it might be interesting to direct the way the others perceive it. When creating an art object you condense points. I am very objective. For egg trilogy for example you have other piece called “untitled non egg structure” that is a painting in mdf and two cylinders. Both have stripes. The colours are egg yellow (a type of yellow I attributed to being the centre of the egg), white as the inside of the egg, and the natural colour of the wood and pressed paper as being the outside of the shell. The objects together being one piece dialogue by the stripes they share. The yellow stripes. And the cylinder against the plane. It’s a minimalistic approach to the subject that deal with the reaction to the way something is presented to us as a viewer. Or contextualised.
JL_So how real is the real Joao Vilhena ?
JV_Hard to tell the perception of each individual. The nature of reality is not objective as the perception of everything around us beside context belongs to the universe of the point of view each one is. For your reality to be mine we met here. Now we share a different view of it and continue to evolve on the points of view. I go on to my life you go home and the external facts around all the placement of this event, aside from how we archive it in our memory is not objective. I guess I am here as I take pleasure in the sun and talking to other people. From one point of another everything changes according to the point of view. And there are so many. Not even that can be stated as the final point of life, death since in fact nobody came back from it and prove the contrary. Narrating art in artwork is only an intention. My paintings tend to be mostly about stripes. They are continuity. That is for me a fact. Compose continuity. Like algebra or music.
JL_The only photograph in the show is a 2 meter photography of a broken egg in a red background. The shell evokes something that once broken became an object in your view. You did an entire serie called egg series around eggs. Some were published already in the international renowned magazine Egoista, others in the art magazine Umbigo. Both remarkable products of national production and all in 2014. Is this the first time you show the egg series in the art scene ?
JV_ It’s the first time I found fit to place them in a proper context. Being a natural history museum, accepting as a curatorial project to feature the relations of art and science and nature was the perfect moment. And having the video shown into this gigantic egg. It didn’t made sense until now to show large prints of the series but the time has come and the public nature of the place, being a national museum in the centre of Lisbon in one of the major arteries during the summer was essential. In the Summer Portugal lacks programming from the galleries and the public is much more and more relaxed. It’s a normal situation but because in Portugal everything tend to be smaller the options are even less. For tourists and the ones that are in Lisbon the show it’s there.
JL_Matetip.com already covered some issues about the problem of austerity in Portugal. You have openly talked about that since 2012 and took very public positions about the lack of support for culture of the government. Portugal is in a very difficult situation some compare only to Greece and Spain. I read in an interview you did at the time for dn.pt ( Diario de Noticias) about a project you designed called artprotesters that “Many don’t have food or medicine. But we also know that a country without art is a place without identity”. How is it for you in 2015 to be such an active creator under this context ?
JV_Oh well! “A salad and another bloody mary”. Things hasn’t really improved in most areas in Portugal. Quite the opposite. Specifically regarding culture, yes I have been able to produce work with huge reception under extraordinary hard working circumstances. So the art scene in Portugal was very much the 80’s vision of favouritism. But with the nature of times the austerity dried out most of it for most of them. Except the ones that still try to control what is left. For them the time is running out. There isn’t much power to share or distribute anymore. So artists that work in a global scale are creating their opportunities. Traveling. Relocating. Living in a post internet, post globalised world. They stand outside the lobby that restrained the provincial vision of one takes it all and are doing their careers. The times are really changing.
JL_It’s notorious that the dimension of Portugal is the matrix for the lack of freedom you mentioned. How did you override that ?
JV_The size actually matter. Portugal is beautiful. The mediterranean light, weather and cuisine are exquisite. The marriage between the world and patrimony is essential to promote what is good in Portugal. We have the public. The monuments. The history. No need to drown on it if one can swim and surf.
JL_So you are a bodybuilder, an artist and according to your wikipedia page even an actor. Is it the quintessential pack for the new millennium ? You seem to speak a language that people understand away from the traditional art circle. And the numbers prove it. Around 50.000 visitors in the show Timeline in Mafra, in the current show too early to tell but the amount of brands you already convoke are remarkable for a visual artist. A documentary featuring the backstage of the art world still being filmed (started with your show with Luis Serpa, and curated by Antonio Cerveira Pinto). You as a brand and artist Joao Vilhena exporting to Dubai. You do surf around your own way!
JV_Wow. I’m not that big. I believe we can create our own way. If you don’t see a door, just bust a wall. lol. There is always a way. As a bodybuilder and spending the most part of my adult life working on myself everything is an extension of me and how I present myself to the world. I have a committed team of marketing, agents, and my life is my work. The public and the private in my family was never an issue or choice, so my public brand is permanent and as been evolving a lot in the last years. I changed a lot and kept my focus on what do I have to offer.
JL_Is that a paradigm change ?
JV_ Yes. Artists tend by professional deformation to think more about what they can get from something instead of what they have to offer. All is sharing in the end, if proper. I focus on what can I give or offer to my public, my viewers, my partners, my lovers. lol
JL_What message to offer to our readers before we close ?
JV_You can always be a better version of yourself. Are we set ?
JL_Thanks Joao. Know I’ll have my salad.
Interview by Josh Lime
Photography of the show by José Paiva Wolff